Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 21, 1997

Campus Violence
Report Released

Study: Committee offers
suggestions to tighten
already tough policies

Randolph Fillmore
Contributing Writer

Violence is an infrequent problem on Hopkins campuses, but Hopkins is "not immune" to violence. This is the conclusion reached by the Committee on Campus Violence established by interim President Daniel Nathans after the 1996 fatal shooting of Homewood student Rex Chao. The committee recently published its report after a seven-month study. (The report may be found online at this address:

With Provost Steven Knapp serving as chair, the committee of 14 faculty, staff and students recommended strengthening what it called "the straightforward" prohibition against firearms on campus. They also stressed a need to continue an "already aggressive initiative" on alcohol and drug abuse-related violence. In addition, the committee pledged to look into what might be less-visible problems on Hopkins campuses--stalking, harassment and dating violence.

"We don't have frequent or widespread problems with violence on this campus," said committee member Paula Burger, vice provost for academic affairs at Homewood. "But all institutions are having to address the unfortunate reality that violence is a fact of life in our society."

The committee's report, Burger said, adds to the university's previous anti-violence standards, yet puts into motion several new initiatives, such as the implementation of risk assessment and prevention teams. The report also revises the university's code on threats and lays the groundwork for training people how to act and react during crises.

"The bottom line is that the consequences of violence are so serious that any one incident is a major problem," Burger said. "What this report said is that we need to have a sensitivity and awareness--and a level of preparation--so that even one incident of violence might be prevented by our extraordinary vigilance."

Harassment and stalking

The committee recommended firming up the student conduct code regarding threats and "strengthening the hands" of administrators for dealing with stalking and harassment incidents when they occur. According to Provost Knapp, the issue of general harassment and stalking occupied a considerable portion of the committee's time. "We were eager to understand what constitutes harassment and stalking and what can be done about it," Knapp said.

The committee recommended increasing education and training for faculty, staff and students.

Risk assessment and prevention

The committee recommended developing a formal protocol for dealing with staff and students who may be dangerous to others. The protocol would include the creation and implementation of a risk assessment team, comprised of staff and faculty and professionals whose expertise may be called when the issues involve risk management. When violence has been committed, the situation would be addressed as a disciplinary matter.

"We believe the capacity to prevent serious situations or routine problems from escalating into major crises could be substantially enhanced if risk assessment and prevention teams acted as consultants and worked with students, faculty and staff," said committee member Richard Kilburg, senior director of the Office of Human Services.

Dating violence

Moved by national studies suggesting that up to 25 percent of college students say they have been involved in a dating relationship where there has been some aspect of physical or sexual violence, committee members admitted that little is known about the prevalence of dating violence on Hopkins campuses.

"There is no reason to assume such problems do not exist at Johns Hopkins," said Jacquelyne Campbell, committee member and professor in the School of Nursing, who is recognized nationally as an expert in campus dating violence issues. Campbell adds that the Baltimore City Police unit closest to Homewood reports receiving many complaints that could be categorized as "dating violence."

"Dating violence is not something separate from date rape," pointed out Campbell, who said that dating violence often "spills over" into forced sex and vice versa.

According to Campbell, the committee discussed the possibility of doing a survey to determine the extent of the dating violence problem on Hopkins campuses.

"Fortunately, we do have a number of people on campus in health care services and student services who are very knowledgeable about this issue and who handle it well," Campbell said. She expects that increased preventive efforts, as endorsed by the committee, will see student counselors trained to deal with dating violence and increased availability of victim counseling.

Going "on notice"

The committee suggested that one effective way to deal immediately with dating violence, varieties of harassment and other unacceptable behaviors is to send suspected perpetrators a letter, putting them "on notice" that their behavior has been observed and will not be tolerated.

"The letter would not prejudge guilt or innocence, but merely emphasize behavior standards and identify the consequences of their infringement," Burger said.

This course of action was one of the recommendations made to the committee by Dorothy Siegel, whose recently published book, Campuses Respond to Violent Tragedy (Orynx, 1995), presents case studies of campus violence and, for each case, suggests ways of dealing with the incidents. Siegel, who is the founder and director of the Campus Violence Prevention Center at Towson State University, and consultant to the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, met early with the committee to offer suggestions and critique its preliminary recommendations.

"There can be no excuses for violent behavior and clear messages to that effect must be sent to the community," Siegel said. "Hopkins is doing a great deal by deciding what it will and will not tolerate and by getting the message out. It is a credit to the university that the top echelons are committed to this issue."

The concept of sending an "on notice" letter is not new at Hopkins campuses. "We have used letters before," said Susan Boswell, dean of students at Homewood Student Affairs. "We liked Dorothy Siegel's letter as a model because it could be sent when a formal complaint had not yet been made."

Victim counseling

The committee recommended making post-trauma counseling available to victims of campus violence. "We already offer a broad range of counseling services and will continue to do so," Boswell said. "But there may be circumstances that call for the use of professionals who have expertise in dealing with post-traumatic stress."

Communication with parents

The report said the committee supports "ensuring adequate communication" with parents when students are involved in incidents of violence. "The committee recommended that parents should be notified immediately and kept fully informed," Burger said. "Even when there is nothing new, we think a periodic checking in assists all parties in remaining in good communication."

When to communicate with parents is a judgment call that Student Affairs has always made. "We prefer to err on the side of more communication with parents rather than less," Boswell said. "We probably communicate more with parents than most institutions."

The committee's report, accompanied by an implementation plan outlining the next steps, will be available immediately on the university Web site.

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